“That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” – John 21:7
Fishing naked…with Jesus! Ok, I admit, this is a bit of an attention getter to make you read; but it is there in the text…laid bare for all the world to see. (sorry, I couldn’t resist a little pun; I can’t promise that won’t be the last) We might surmise that these disciples are, shall we say, a little slow on the uptake. Do the math, this scene will now be the third event that Peter and John have seen the Lord Jesus. On Easter morning Peter and John see Jesus; what do they do next? Lock themselves away for fear! Jesus shows up twice more, even with those locked doors; again, what do they do next? They retreat to Galilee to their old stomping grounds and go back to work, fishing…naked. Now it would seem that if you see the Lord, risen from the dead, that might just be a life altering, perspective shifting, make you reevaluate all kinds of stuff type of event…but these disciples are a bit slow on the uptake. I’ve been tempted in the past to name the ending of John’s Gospel the Gospel of the dimwitted. Then again, are we any different? Aren’t we just a bit slow on the uptake? And perhaps a little slack is in order; after all, might it take us all a while to get our brains around seeing someone alive who we knew for certain was dead?
This is just an odd scene all the way around. There is of course the slow uptake of the disciples. Then there’s this business of Peter being naked. Now to be sure nakedness was seen very differently 2,000 years ago. Part of our discomfort here might have more to say about us than the texts what with our fairly puritanical views on the human body despite what magazine covers and tv shows might suggest. Still, I find it curious that Peter’s nakedness is singled out here. It seems odd, all things considered, that Peter is naked in this scene when seemingly none of the others are. Was Peter just a free spirit? Maybe he looked for any excuse to bare it all in the buff! Maybe it was an inside joke among the disciples, “there goes Peter again…letting it all hang out.” Beside this, why would Peter strip down to fish then don water soaking, weight adding, potential drowning hazard clothing to swim ashore?
I’ve been thinking this week that the answer is perhaps in the book of Hebrews. “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (4:12-13) These two verses may well be the cliff’s-notes version of today’s Gospel reading. The word of God is living and active; like Jesus’ dawn time walk along the shore or his morning culinary endeavors. A man naked and laid bare before the Lord; oh and there’s judgment…but we’ll get to that in a second.
It’s not easy to have your whole life unfold before the eyes of all. I used to relish the tabloid news of pastors and politicians, sports stars and celebrities and their very public falls from grace…ok, I still enjoy them a bit. But mostly I find it uncomfortable for someone to have all their faults laid out for all to see. That’s Peter. He’s both literally and figuratively naked. Laid bare before Jesus isn’t just flesh but also the naked deeds of a man who betrayed the Lord in his hour of greatest need…three times! I’m of the opinion that Peter is feeling very vulnerable right about now and those clothes are giving him just a bit of fleeting security in an all too uncomfortable situation.
Dripping wet, recently naked, huffing and puffing from a swim, Peter finds himself standing before the one he betrayed. It’s awkward, it’s tense. Jesus feeds him and his friends. Jesus is always doing that isn’t he? Jesus feeds us, weather we deserve it or not, when we love him or betray him, in the morning at noon and in the night, Jesus feeds us. That’s important.
Now the scene changes a bit, clothed or not, naked Peter is questioned by Jesus. Make no mistake, this is judgment plain and simple. Three times Jesus asks, “do you love me?” Now there’s something that’s lost to us with our English translations. Jesus and Peter are having what might be called “failure to communicate” in Cool Hand Luke’s parlance. Jesus asks do you love me agape (with Godly Love). Peter responds “yes, you know I love you” (with brotherly love). Twice this goes on, then Jesus changes his word, do you love me with brotherly love to which Peter responds yes, with brotherly love. Does Jesus bend? Not really, I’d say that he meets Peter where he is. Ol slow on the uptake Peter is still being a bit dimwitted…like we all can be. So Jesus will do what Jesus does, he goes to Peter instead of making Peter come to him. Jesus takes Peter to himself and will, throughout a life lived bring Peter to where Jesus is. This judgment has become love and acceptance and the start of transformation. Ok, says Jesus, we’ll start with brotherly love and we’ll get to Godly love.
How will they do that? By feeding and tending sheep as Jesus instructs Peter to do and as Jesus has demonstrated in preparing breakfast. You see, loving others (brotherly love) is intrinsic to loving God (Godly love). We’re taught in Scripture that people make up the Body of Christ. We love God by loving one another and we love one another by loving God. love, be it Godly or brotherly, is all bound together…you can’t have one without the other.
At its heart this is a story about all of our vulnerabilities and about the Jesus who breaks through them to love us and feed us and transform us. “Where I am there you shall be” Jesus said earlier in John’s Gospel. That’s true; it was true then, it’s true now, and it will be true forever and always. Jesus will stop at nothing to make that true for you. He didn’t let flesh or blood stop him, nor did he let temptations or passions, cross or death, stone covered graves or locked doors, fishing boats and seas, nakedness or denials or anything else get in the way of making that promise of his true for you.